should be more discreet in your bearing towards this soldier.”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed, in a choking voice.
“Are ye not more to me than my own affairs, and even life!” he went on. “Come, listen to me! I am six years older than you, and Mr. Boldwood is ten years older than I, and consider – I do beg of ‘ee to consider before it is too late – how safe you would be in his hands!”
Oak’s allusion to his own love for her lessened, to some extent, her anger at his interference; but she could not really forgive him for letting his wish to marry her be eclipsed by his wish to do her good, any more than for his slighting treatment of Troy.
“I wish you to go elsewhere.” she commanded, a paleness of face invisible to the eye being suggested by the trembling words. “Do not remain on this farm any longer. I don’t want you – I beg you to go!”
“That’s nonsense.” said Oak, calmly. “This is the second time you have pretended to dismiss me; and what’s the use o’ it?”
“Pretended! You shall go, sir – your lecturing I will not hear! I am mistress here.”
“Go, indeed – what folly will you say next? Treating me like Dick, Tom and Harry when you know that a short time ago my position was as good as yours! Upon my life, Bathsheba, it is too barefaced. You know, too, that I can’t go without putting things in such a strait as you wouldn’t get out of I can’t tell when. Unless, indeed, you’ll promise to have an understanding man as bailiff, or manager, or something. I’ll go at once if you’ll promise that.”
“I shall have no bailiff; I shall continue to be my own manager.” she said decisively.
“Very well, then; you should be thankful to me for biding. How would the farm go on with nobody to mind it but a woman? But mind this, I don’t wish “ee to feel you owe me anything. Not I. What I do, I do. Sometimes I say I should be as glad as a bird to leave the place – for don’t suppose I’m content to be a nobody. I was made for better things. However, I don’t like to see your concerns going to ruin, as they must if you keep in this mind… I hate taking my own measure so plain, but, upon my life, your provoking ways make a man say what he wouldn’t dream of at other times! I own to being rather interfering. But you know well enough how it is, and who she is that I like too well, and feel too much like a fool about to be civil to her!”
It is more than probable that she privately and unconsciously respected him a little for this grim fidelity, which had been shown in his tone even more than in his words. At any rate she murmured something to the effect that he might stay if he wished. She said more distinctly, ” Will you leave me alone now? I don’t order it as a mistress – I ask it as a woman, and I expect you not to be so uncourteous as to refuse.”
“Certainly I will, Miss Everdene.” said Gabriel, gently.
He wondered that the request should have come at this moment, for the strife was over, and they were on a most desolate hill, far from every human habitation, and the hour was getting late. He stood still and allowed her to get far ahead of him till he could only see her form upon the sky.
A distressing explanation of this anxiety to be rid of him at that point now ensued. A figure apparently rose from the earth beside her. The shape beyond all doubt was Troy’s. Oak would not be even a possible listener, and at once turned back till a good two hundred yards were between the lovers and himself.
Gabriel went home by way of the churchyard. In passing the tower he thought of what she had said about the sergeant’s virtuous habit of entering the church unPARTICULARS OF A TWILIGHT WALK perceived at the beginning of service. Believing that the little gallery door alluded to was quite disused, he ascended the external flight of steps at the top of which it stood, and examined it. The pale lustre yet hanging in the north-western heaven was sufficient to show that a sprig of ivy had grown from the wall across the door to a length of more than a foot, delicately tying the panel to the stone jamb. It was a decisive proof that the door had not been opened at least since Troy came back to Weatherbury.